Wildland firefighters are scrambling to respond to multiple lightning-caused fires in Southwest Alaska as a result of thunderstorms the past four days.
As of 8 p.m. Wednesday, 13 new wildfires were reported in the area around McGrath and Dillingham – five on Tuesday and eight on Wednesday – bringing the total number of current active fires in the Southwest Area to 23, according to the Alaska Division of Forestry’s McGrath office.
Firefighters were actively working to suppress three of those fires, two of which are burning in Full protection areas and one that is located in a Modified protection area. Fire managers are in the process of gathering more information on other fires to determine if action will be taken while monitoring several other fires burning in Limited protection areas with no resources threatened.
The Chulitna Fire (#237) was reported at approximately 2:30 p.m. Wednesday and is located about 13 miles north of the village of Nondalton near Lake Illiamna. The fire was estimated at approximately 25 acres at 5:30 p.m. and eight smokejumpers from the BLM Alaska Fire Service in Fairbanks were deployed on the fire at around 6 p.m. The fire is burning in black spruce and tundra and no resources are currently threatened. Smokejumpers reported another small 1-acre fire burning north of the Chulitna Fire while enroute and fire managers are trying to get more information on that fire.
A helitack load of nine firefighters from McGrath were flown to the Naku Peak Fire (#236) on Wednesday afternoon. The fire is located approximately 85 miles east of Dillingham and 10 miles southwest of the village of Igiugig. The fire was reported Tuesday night by a private pilot as a one-quarter acre fire burning near the village of Igiugig in a Modified protection area. However, due to low spread potential and time restrictions, no action was taken on the fire Tuesday night.
By the time the helitack load of nine firefighters from McGrath arrived on scene at around 5 p.m. Wednesday, the wind-driven fire had grown to an estimated 20 acres and was actively burning in tundra grasses. A helicopter was called in to drop water on the fire and an air tanker dropped two loads of retardant around the fire to slow the spread. Eight smokejumpers from Fairbanks were deployed to the fire and had yet to arrive as of 8 p.m.
Eight firefighters from the McGrath forestry office were working to suppress the 2-acre Roundhouse Mountain Fire (#230) located in a Full protection area approximately 145 miles northeast of Dillingham and 6.5 miles southwest of Nondalton. The fire was reported by local residents in Nondalton at approximately 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. The fire was burning in tundra and caribou moss. A power plant was reported nearby the fire and eight smokejumpers positioned in Galena were deployed on the fire. A helicopter from McGrath was used for water drops to assist efforts on the ground. A helitack load of eight firefighters from McGrath replaced the smokejumpers early Wednesday afternoon to search for hot spots and begin mop-operations.
More lightning is forecast in the area Thursday and fire managers are anticipating more wildfire activity as a result. Fire managers will be conducting detection flights to search for any new fires that were not found as a result of lightning the last four days.